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NASCAR Barometer: A Happy Hamlin

As it often does in Pocono, the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams and drivers endured a summer rainstorm. Just as the field was getting ready to take the first green flag, the skies opened up and caused a delay. The sun came out fairly quickly though, but even after the two-hour delay there were scenes from Daytona. A hole in the pit exit had to be repaired and was patched with epoxy.

Ultimately the race got underway and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin led from the beginning. Clint Bowyer reeled the JGR teammates in, and dominated the race from then.

Pit penalties were a common disease Sunday and a number of fast cars ran afoul of the rulebook. Matt Kenseth, Juan Pablo Montoya and Brad Keselowski all fell far behind in the early stages of the race due to mistakes on pit road. They weren't the last ones and everyone who earned the ire of NASCAR dug himself a hole to fight out of the rest of the race.

Drivers bunched together in the closing laps, thanks to some late caution periods. The finish was an exciting one, seeing Hamlin win after a green-white-checkered finish that included a major pile-up on the backstretch.

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin Hamlin, again, was one of the fastest cars in Pocono. He led with his teammate in the early going and then challenged later in the race as well, never running outside of the top five. He nearly won the race in regulation, but had to do it in overtime as a caution came out at the last possible second. Hamlin had three top-five finishes in the five races leading up to Pocono and extended the streak this weekend. Hamlin's average finish in the last five Michigan races is 14.2 with two top-five and three top-10 finishes. Hamlin expects to win every weekend and he is proving that he also has the car to do it.

Juan Pablo Montoya Montoya was caught speeding on pit lane just before the halfway mark, which put him at the end of the lead lap after serving his penalty. It is no surprise he was speeding because his car was a fast one out on the track. A top-10 finish was the reward for his perseverance though. Montoya still has a huge amount of ground to cover to make the Chase. The Columbian's average finish in six career starts at Michigan is 26.2 with one top-10 result in last year's June race. Montoya needs to shrug off the troubles that have started to plague his season and he needs to do it soon. For fantasy players, it may be wise to avoid selecting him until he does that.

Jimmie Johnson In Sunday's early running Johnson looked to be set for another rough day, but by the end he was running strongly. The four-time champion finally got back on the wagon with a top-10 Pocono finish after a series of disappointing results and some hard luck. He hadn't finished in the top-10 since Richmond International Raceway, but he was on form Sunday in Pennsylvania. Despite this solid result, Michigan is not the happiest track for Johnson. His average finish in the last five races there is 16.2 and he has never scored a win. His best finish at the track is third in 2007. If Johnson can chalk up a strong Michigan finish, his struggles may be over. We'll know next week.

Clint Bowyer Bowyer had a great run at Pocono finishing ninth. He dominated the first half of the race with a well handling car, and it looked like he was going to run away with the race. Unfortunately Bowyer faded as caution flags began to fly in the late running, but Bowyer still should be proud of the effort. He also has two top-10 results from his last two Sprint Cup races at Michigan International Speedway. Despite having an average finish of 16.2 in his last five races at the track, Bowyer should be a solid fantasy option next weekend. Richard Childress Racing has shown that it has improved and Bowyer is on a hot streak of his own.

Kevin Harvick The series points leader heading into Pocono also turned in another solid run. Harvick led his first laps ever at the Pennsylvania triangle and notched a solid points result and his fifth top-five result of the season at Pocono Sunday. Along the way Harvick furthered his feud with Joey Logano and the two made contact, which set up the race's overtime period. Harvick hasn't led many laps this season, but has consistently turned in top finishes regardless. That kind of consistency is what wins championships, and that is exactly what Harvick and his team is hoping to do. In the last five races at Michigan, Harvick has an average finish of 13.0.

DOWNGRADE

David Reutimann Reutimann had a rough ride when he bounced off of the turn 3 wall before the halfway mark. The solid contact was not enough to cause a crash or caution, but it was definitely enough to ruin the handling of his car. He was forced to pit early to repair the damage, and was already on an earlier pit schedule than most of the field. With a last lap crash, Reutimann was helped to a 14th-place result. Reutimann has six Michigan starts under his belt with an average finish of 19.2. He earned his first top-10 at the track last August and has two top-10 starts, but has yet to prove that he can really get the job done there. Reutimann may warrant caution when selecting your lineups for next week.

Casey Mears After Brian Vickers had to make way for health trouble Mears took the reigns of the No. 83 Toyota. Unfortunately, the car was never a factor at Pocono. Mears rode around at the back of the pack for the majority of the race until he was spun on a restart following one of the race's few cautions. The good news for Red Bull is that the last time Mears was at Michigan International Speedway in a Sprint Cup car, he finished sixth. His best finish at the track was fourth in 2007. Still, Mears' average finish in the last five Michigan races is just 17.8. It will take some work to get this team to move to the front of the pack.

Jamie McMurray For the majority of the race, McMurray was a non-factor. The No. 1 car became a factor in the closing laps, though when David Ragan took him out. Contact between the drivers brought out a caution that enabled the race leaders to pit and end any doubts about fuel. McMurray, who finished second in three of the last five races, ended his day in 36th position. McMurray's average finish in the last five Michigan races is 18.6 with two 10th-place results. He's only led 13 laps in Sprint Cup at MIS and that, coupled with his finishing average, shows that he could have another long weekend of work ahead of him.

Brad Keselowski It was a disappointing afternoon for Keselowski whose teammates both had solid Pocono runs. Sadly, it was a pit mistake that ruined Keselowski's chances of having a good day. A lug not wasn't secured on a wheel and NASCAR black-flagged him to make the fix. The No. 12 car spent the rest of the day a lap down to the leaders, and never looked likely to make up any ground. Keselowski has not scored a single top-five or top-10 yet this season. He doesn't have a top finish in Michigan either. In fact, he just has one race under his belt at the track so far. He finished 24th in last year's Carfax 400 after starting 12th. Keselowski is not getting the job done in his rookie season for Penske Racing so far this season.